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Lebanon promotes “No-till Farming” - a true return to nature

Innovation / -

La tecnica della non lavorazione del suolo in Libano

To increase productivity and safeguard the soil, the American University of Beirut is engaged in a project aimed at direct sowing, without tillage. And it's making big savings for Lebanese farmers.

In the agricultural arena, historic practices sometimes hold the key to solving contemporary problems. In the old days, for example, farmers did not use tractors (or fuel) to propel their ploughs, so the soil was tilled much less. These days, however, intensive production methods have reduced yields. With this in mind, the American University of Beirut, thanks to the field experience of the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), has been practising no-till farming since 2007, which simply involves not tilling the soil. This plan is restoring the fertility of the land and increasing yields. It is also reducing water consumption by stabilising soil humidity.
Energy recovery
In order to safeguard the soil over time, sowing is carried out with as little impact as possible on the soil surface, by avoiding soil preparation as far as possible. Farmers do not use tractors with ploughing implements for deep tillage because their weight reduces the formation of micro-organisms that are vital for fertility. A layer of previous crop residue (or vetch) is also left lying on the surface of the ground, to prevent evaporation and keep the soil moist even at times of drought.
This type of soil covering also has the advantage of reducing the use of herbicides, thus reducing production costs significantly.
The project involves on-site training for farmers aimed at promoting the advantages of this technique in terms of increased yields, especially from fruit trees.
High yields
To understand just how powerful this initiative has been, you only need to look at the results achieved over the past four years: yields have risen by approximately 15%, while production costs have fallen by 20% to 30% (including fuel savings).
This programme offers long-term benefits because it restores the soil to its original condition and minimises long-term risks to the harvest caused by climate changes.

Five questions for the American University of Beirut. Excellent results extend to other arable land in Lebanon

Innovation / -

I campi vengono lavorati con nuovi macchinari, ma senza l'utilizzo di aratri.

Despite the unstable situation in the region, the project "No-till Farming" has the ability to bring significant changes to restore of the land. The American University of Beirut (AUB), which conceived and promoted the initiative, discusses the different stages of implementation.

At Expo Milano 2015, visitors will be made aware of the American University of Beirut project thanks to the photo-story displayed in Pavilon Zero. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
Conventional Agriculture leads us to lose around 6 kg of soil per every 1 kg of produce. It takes 1000 years to form 3 cm of soil. Topsoil, which has supported life since time immemorial, was never plowed and hence protected to a certain degree from wind and rain erosion. Our aim in No-Till Conservation Agriculture (CA) is safeguarding soil, the foundation of the ecosystem, and improving farmers’ income.

What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project?
Two main obstacles were overcome. First, the incredulity of the farmers who have the plow engrained in their ethos; the word farmer in Arabic is “till-maker”, so No-Till had to be a hard bargain. Another hurdle was the decline in crops in the first year of No-Till, due to unavoidable land adaptation. That was resolved when a trial crop, vetch, unexpectedly gave a higher yield starting from the first year. 

Since the submission date, how has your project developed to date?
The project ended in 2009 with an increase in No-Till from 40 to 500 hectares. By 2011 it had continued unabated, to reach 1100 hectares. The Ministry of Agriculture formed a Committee on CA/No-Till, to actively promote it. Many farmers felt ready to alter their perception of CA, and social perception of farmers is starting to follow lead, with the awareness of our need for partners towards a sustainable ecosystem. 

What developments do you expect in the long term for your idea?
Due to the turbulent state of the region the number of CA converted plots has unfortunately dwindled back to 500ha. The specialized machinery was not available for farmers due to lack of insurance arrangements, and the project lost the momentum. Our next step is to re-launch this initiative and expand CA to at least 2% of arable land in Lebanon (4000ha), with special focus on olive orchards.

Do you intend to replicate the project in other countries or in other contexts?
The pilot project, funded by the German Cooperative GIZ, started as collaboration with the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands, ACSAD based in Syria/Jordan, encompassing 3 countries. The expansion of No-Till in Lebanon will share its results and innovations with the original partners, especially in view of the size of arable lands and potential for self-sufficiency there.

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